Myrtle Beach Airport To Aim For Facade Improvements, Gate Expansion By May

Aug. 14--Myrtle Beach International Airport officials are on the fast track to improve the facade on the old terminal and open two new gates at the old terminal, with the hopes of securing funding and getting the work done by May.

Jason Terreri, assistant director for Horry County Department of Airports, said at Wednesday's Airport Advisory Committee meeting that preliminary work has been done on opening more gates and cleaning the old terminal's appearance.

"The big project that we're going to deliver by May is we need to look at the terminal facade update, but the priority is adding additional gate capacity. That's going to be bringing one or two gates on, which we're looking at the planning study right now. It's going to involve concessions... working with the airlines, looking at their schedules, because what we have to do is map gate the schedules to see where we have capacity around the gates."

This project will coincide with a $20 million runway resurfacing project, which is slated to be completed by next year as well. The project, funded by $18 million of federal funds and $2 million of local match, will bring the runway up to code on its surfaces, some of which remain from its military airport days.

Terreri said initial talks with the airlines show the additional gate or gates will be needed.

"Based on what we're hearing from the airlines in the 2015 schedule, based on the active gates that we have right now, we are not going to be able to accommodate the schedule on the eight active gates, which is a good story," Terreri said. "The airlines are going to be bringing in larger aircraft... So not only are there going to be more passengers, but it's going to take longer. Where it took 30 minutes to turn that airplane out of the gate, it's now going to take 45 minutes. That's what's driving to add additional gates."

Kirk Lovell, assistant director of the county's airport department, said MYR is feeling the positive impact of a good flying economy currently, which is still showing signs of improvement.

"Year to date, we've generated about 407,000 arriving passengers, so, in total, that would be about 820,000 total passengers," Lovell said. "If you look each month, you can see we're getting close to record levels, and that's all a result of seat capacity. So, seats are way up. A lot of things helping the industry are stable fuel prices. While fuel prices are high, they are stable and airlines are able to forecast them."

Allegiant has doubled the number of passengers it brought in last month compared to the same month last year, Lovell said. Spirit, Delta, WestJet and U.S. Airways expanded their seat capacity earlier in the season, and some even extended their season a few weeks earlier, which has brought the numbers up, he said.

Lovell said comparisons by quarter are showing increases year-to-year, which is also a credit to the airlines.

"We're seeing a lot of positive results and a lot of passengers coming through the terminal on the number of gates that we have," Lovell said.

Within the last 16 months, the Department of Airports opened its new $118 million, 240,000-square-foot passenger terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport. About $5.5 million was budgeted in the overall project to address parking issues, the facade of the old terminal and opening more gates.

By Aug. 28, more than 570 new parking slots in the credit card parking lot of the airport will be open. Now that it's almost complete, airport officials want to work on the facade project and additional gates.

For a while, the debate on what to do with the 21,500-square-foot former ticket lobby centered around the differing views of vocal Horry County officials and members of the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board. County officials wanted to see the ticketing area of the old terminal come down, while CAB members wanted to ensure the old terminal's facade complimented the new terminal. The county's administration committee went as far as voting in August 2013 to tear it down. But, county officials have since learned that it could not be torn down because moving around a fiber optic cable that leads to the new terminal would be cost prohibitive.

Jon Bourne, vice chairman of the airport advisory committee, said he was interested in when all four remaining gates would be in use, which Pat Apone, director of airports for Horry County, said that determination will be made beginning next summer.

"We have a gate limitation by resolution and ordinance between the city and the council, so we're going to have to operate within those parameters," Apone said. "We're going to be doing a master plan after the runway project."

Terreri said the airport will be cognizant of making the improvements cost efficient.

"We want to take a modular approach to these gates so that you can open the gates," Terreri said. "We have two gates right now where there is a roll up where we can shut those gates down. We want to do the same thing going down the concourse so that in the off season we can close it, so we're not getting the operational costs or the maintenance costs, and just activate those gates during the high season."

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.

Copyright 2014 - The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

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